Yes! You CAN have a gender-neutral, stereotype-free, wedding ceremony

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (20/04/2021) updated 17/08/2021
Categories: | Inclusive Weddings | Wedding Ceremony |
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Partners in Marriage - words in shaded bluesThe traditional wedding ceremony is heavily loaded with gender-role stereotypes. Even today, gender-laden ceremonies are the norm.

But, even before Marriage Equality became a reality in late 2017, Australian couples could choose to use the gender-neutral word spouse, in place of husband and wife.  Brides were not legally required to be given away. Nor were they legally required to be the passive recipient of The Kiss with no say in the matter, the groom being given permission to kiss his (or worse, the) bride.

What did Marriage Equality change?


The obvious change (yay) was that the couple standing up in front of their guests, pledging their lives to one another, do not have to be one female bride and one male groom. You can be who you are, the gender you are, regardless of the gender of the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. As a result, the definition of marriage, required to be recited by every civil celebrant before a couple makes their vows, saw a man and a woman changed to two people.

A second positive change was to the terminology you can use when you make your vows.

The option of taking your best beloved as your husband, or wife, remains. So you can marry as husband and wife, husband and husband, or wife and wife. The option of using the gender-neutral word, spouse, also remains.

A new gender-neutral term was added. Couples can now pledge their lives to one another as partner-in-marriage.  Interestingly, while pre-Marriage Equality the use of the word partner was not permitted in a legal marriage ceremony, due to the ambiguity of the term, it was the term of choice for same sex couples having a non-legal wedding (commitment ceremony). Post Marriage Equality, same sex couples appear to overwhelmingly favour the use of husband and husband or wife and wife (and why wouldn't they, having fought so hard for it), a significant proportion of the heterosexual couples I marry are choosing to say partner-in-marriage.

What about the paperwork?

Prior to Marriage Equality you had no choice. The relevant columns in the Notice of Intended Marriage were headed Bridegroom and Bride, with those terms (and order) transferred to your marriage certificates, both the official certificate that proves your marriage has been registered and the certificate you are presented with on the day.

Marriage Equality changed the column headings from  Bridegroom and Bride to Partner 1 and Partner 2 (allowing you to decide who would be which) and removed those terms from the Presentation Certificate.

Two sets of checkboxes were added to the Notice. How you chose to describe yourselves (Groom, Bride, or Partner) and your sex (Male, Female, X). So there was still a whisper of the previous hierachy in the order ... but the good news is that from 1 September 2021, the term sex will be changed to gender and non- binary will replace X, so the options will be male, female, non-binary.  Providing gender information is optional, and will not transferred onto your marriage certificate. It is for statistical purposes only.

On your official marriage certificate the terms you chose (Groom, Bride, and Partner), and only those, will appear. Your gender is not mentioned.

Making sure your ceremony isn't traditionally gendered

The way it has always been done. Seven words that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Tradition isn't law. In many ways, wedding tradition is peer pressure from Queen Victoria, long-dead aristocrats, and the white wedding industry. Take that to heart.
  • your wedding party doesn't have to be divided along strictly gender lines
  • there are many more ways of getting yourselves up the front than one person walking towards the other
  • one of you does not have to be given away to the other
  • you can wear whatever you like without any regard to heteronormative styling.

Regardless of how much pressure others may apply to try to make you confirm to gender stereotypes, you are legally entitled to ignore them.

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Thanks for reading!
Jenny xxx Let's talk soon about how you
                      can have the best ceremony ever
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